- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 20, 2015

VALPARAISO, Ind. (AP) - Natalie Eichelberg, of Valparaiso, looked on with pride as her preschooler, Elliana Eichelberg, received an award for having read several books over the last few weeks.

Elliana is one of 30 children in the preschool program at Victory Christian Academy who participated in the Spring Reading Challenge. Preschool teacher Terrie Linden said the children read 1,523 books this year, beating their previous year’s total of 1,000 books. She said the students spent 313 hours reading, either reading themselves or their parents reading a book to them.

Eichelberg was one of a handful of parents and grandparents at the pizza party where children received their awards. She said it was really important to her and her husband that their daughter have a Christian education.

“That was No. 1,” she said. “I also like the small class size. She has learned how to read. She is doing an amazing job. I have been so happy. It’s not just about academics. They also teach socialization skills. I have been blown away by what they do here. She will begin kindergarten here in the fall.”

Established in 2002 by Joyce Folk and Tamara Canzoneri, Victory Christian Academy has 310 students from Porter, LaPorte, Lake and Jasper counties. Of that number, 135 use vouchers. A voucher, or Indiana Choice Scholarship, allows a student to use public school dollars to attend a private school.

Folk, who serves as principal or head administrator, said enrollment will be up in the fall by 20 students. She said the two established the school because there was no Christian academy at the time in Valparaiso, and she and Canzoneri were both committed to offering a Christian education.

The school operates two buildings. A preschool through third-grade campus located at 3805 LaPorte Ave. and a campus for grades four through 12 at 360 N 325 E, both in Valparaiso. They rent the primary campus from a church and bought the second building, a former church, in a foreclosure sale in 2009.

The first year they started, Folk said they had 13 students, and the second year, there were 80 students. The school has generally grown in enrollment each year.

“We are not accredited like a public school but we are recognized by the state of Indiana and we qualify for vouchers,” Folk said. “Our students take the ISTEP-Plus exam and the end-of-course assessments. Just like the public school, our school year runs from mid-August to May.”

The Indiana Department of Education graded the school an A in 2014. There are no grades listed for previous years. However, the number of students using vouchers has grown each year. In the 2011-12 school year, there were 25 students; 47 in 2012-13; 90 in 2013-14 and 135 this school year.

There are 50 staff members, 32 of whom are teachers including those in the preschool program. There are nearly 30 special education students enrolled in the school.

Folk said the school offers honors classes and the athletic department has 21 different teams, including volleyball, basketball and baseball. On May 1, Victory Academy played West Side High School at the RailCats baseball stadium. The Christian school also has played Hammond and participates in the Porter County Conference.

Jim Hunt, PE/biology and anatomy and physiology teacher and coach, said he taught 26 years in the public school system before coming to Victory Christian Academy.

“Everything we do here is centered around scripture and what God teaches about how we should behave and act,” he said. “Competition is encouraged because that drives us to be better but at the same time, these kids encourage each other to be better and take joy from that.”

Pre-calculus teacher Marisol Parr was working with a group of students in the classroom on the Law of Sines, while a smaller group sat in a semi-circle in the hallway. She said she divided up the students to give the smaller group a little extra help.

Parr is a graduate of the Air Force Academy and was in the military for a few years. After homeschooling her own children, she decided to become a teacher, and has been at Victory five years, with an eye toward administration.

As the bell rang, a few of the high school students rushed through the hallway snacking on a piece of peach cobbler they made in their home economics class.

Folk said the school has few discipline problems. She said there was one expulsion this year, and there have been some suspensions.

On another side of the building, art teacher Amy Harris was working with students on monochromatic painting, an important component of avant-garde visual art throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century.

In his geography class, teacher Richard Jones, who is also dean of students, offers students an ethnic coffee day. On May 1, the high school students tried Indonesian coffee.

“These kids are the Starbucks generation. They all drink coffee. It wasn’t like that in my day,” he said with a laugh.

Sophomore Kevin Yednak, who has been enrolled at Victory 11 years, said the coffee was great.

“This is a good school. Everybody is very loving and they care about you. It’s such a small school that you can have a close relationship with the teachers. They are easy to approach and easy to talk to,” Yednak said.

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Source: The (Munster) Times, https://bit.ly/1LeH8Ua

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Information from: The Times, https://www.thetimesonline.com

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